Darlene Van Tiem, CPT, CPLP, is associate professor emeritus, performance improvement and instructional design, University of Michigan Dearborn, and is on the faculty of Capella University. She was formerly training director at AT&T Yellow Pages (Midwest) and curriculum manager for General Motors Technical Training. Van Tiem is immediate past-president of ISPI and lead author of two award-winning ISPI books: Fundamentals of Performance Technology (second edition) and Performance Improvement Interventions. She has published more than 50 journal articles and presented more than 50 juried presentations.

Q. Thinking back to all the stages of your career in human performance improvement, what were the biggest challenges you faced as a novice, an intermediate practitioner, and then as an expert in the field and how did you overcome those challenges?

A. As a novice, my first challenges stemmed from lack of experience, which limited my ability to apply what I learned in college. Every day was new and different. I watched my colleagues and discussed situations with them, particularly over lunch. It was a look, listen, and learn situation.

As I obtained more education, including a PhD and MSA in business, again, I learned to apply my education and experience to new situations. Performance improvement means many, varied assignments. I became very active in ASTD at the local and national level as president of the Greater Detroit chapter when it was more than 750 chapter members and chair of the technical and skills practice area when ASTD national was developing what became their annual technical conference (ASTD TechKnowledge 2012). ASTD led me to experts in the field and their comments, praise, and recommendations were terrific learning opportunities. Professional association also provided credibility.

Then, I became recognized as an expert as I became more active in ISPI. By that time, I was publishing articles regularly in Performance Improvement Quarterly as well as ASTD Links on a monthly basis. Two books for which I was lead author provided insight becauseJim Moseley, Joan Dessinger, and I would challenge each other to consider and stretch our insight. By that time, I was associate professor atUniversity of MichiganDearborn and now on the faculty atCapellaUniversity (since I retired from UM-D). Now, I learn from students research and as I publish, and I am privileged to associate with some of the most respected leaders in our field.

Q. You have been involved greatly in both ASTD and ISPI over your career. How did you make the most out of your professional society affiliations to help you advance your career?

A. Professional associations are a wonderful place to learn and grow. It is possible to learn leadership skills because there is no pay incentive to participate. All leadership is indirect, and therefore, it is essential to keep volunteers engaged. They gotta wanna, to paraphrase Robert F. Mager. Professional associations require project management, leadership, communication, motivation, focus, plus knowledge of the field. It is important to keep the vision of the best of our field and continuously move in the direction of the best.

Q. During your career as a professor teaching HPI, what lessons did you learn from your students (perhaps inadvertently) and how did that affect your career?

A. Right now, I am on the faculty atCapellaUniversity. My main role is chairing 17 dissertations, and I am on about 10 dissertation committees. I see my role as collaborator in their research. I recommend new ways of looking at ideas and I search when there seems to be a dead-end situation. It is also a huge job of indirect leadership. I cannot do the work for the student; however, dissertations are huge efforts. I need to provide insight while making sure that students do not lose heart by believing that they are overwhelmed. Of course, I send them articles that I come across online to spur their thinking. Since I am so close to the experts in our field, I usually send something from one of my colleagues so the students feel engaged with the best in the field.

Q. As an accomplished writer in our field, what is the best advice you can give others in regards to writing and publishing to share knowledge with your colleagues and clients?

A. This is an important question! When publishing, the writer cannot focus on the content first. The writers first allegiance is to the reader. I visualize my reader. Then, as I write, I test my paragraphs to be sure that the reader could understand what I said, would not be bored, and remain engaged. I try to use interesting language. That is not to say that content is not the most important factor. But content that is not read is not very helpful.

As for content, write in terms of new ideas and then link them with current ideas in new ways. For example, Moseley, Dessinger, and I are writing the third edition of Fundamentals of Performance Improvement to be published by Pfeiffer. We worked on the revised model for more than nine months. As we wrote, it became clear that something wasnt working the way we wanted. Or we came across a new idea that needed to be added. We kept field testing our model with leaders in our field. We determined the impact we wanted our book to have and kept field testing and refining until we got to that point. Field testing is an important part of writing. Ask people not in the performance improvement field to read your writing and then ask them what they think they read. If they are not interested, then you probably need to revise to engage readers.

Q. What is the most important thing you have learned that helps you to continuously enhance your leadership abilities?

A. I guess it is to be responsive to people. When someone emails me regarding something of interest I always try to respond within a week or two if not an hour or two. When someone in professional leadership or at headquarters asks for information, I quickly research and get back to them. I guess being a servant leader is most effective. I also ask my expert colleagues for insight to keep my brain alert and to not assume that I know something. For example, one of the most interesting people I know is Roger Addison. Roger was a high school kid when B.F. Skinner, Tom Gilbert, Donald T. Tosti, Geary Rummler, Dale Brethower, Mager, Joe Harless, and the rest of the gang were learning to write programmed instruction. After school, Roger would trouble shoot their programs to make sure that everything worked. As a result, he can tell stories about the early days of performance improvement. Also, when I read or hear history, I often email Roger to be sure of the accuracy. Connecting, communicating, and responding seem to be important.

Q. In general, what or who has been the biggest influence in your life and how did it affect your career?

A. I think that every dissertation of a doctoral student who is married thanks their spouse first. Now, while writing this third edition and chairing dissertations, it is clearly Phil, my husband since 1964, who is the greatest influence. We balance time for retirement with time for my performance improvement activities.

My students have been motivating. Students ask questions. They tell you things and then you see ideas in a new light. I believe it was Anna in the King of Siam (The King and I) who said that the teacher learns more than the students. It is a great experience to collaborate with students on articles for professional publication.

Finally, my colleagues are a huge influence. I learn at faculty discussions, faculty collaboration on projects, and particularly at annual professional conferences. Preparing presentations, informal networking, participating in sessions, and hearing key note speeches keep me sharp and eager to continue.

We are all very blessed in our field. It is exciting work and we can make a difference in the lives of individuals. Jeanne Farrington, Roger Kaufman, and others wrote an article and then Brethower followed up based on the concept that we can save the world. We are in a profession that realizes the opportunity to make a big difference in the workplace or the world. Each of us has the power of one but our field provides the insight to affect the world.